Once again the Oakland Raiders will try to put together back-to-back wins for the first time this year. To do it, they’ll have to get past a Tennessee Titans team that has lost its starting quarterback to season-ending surgery and has dropped four of its last five games.
Matt McGloin will make his second-straight start for Oakland after throwing for three touchdowns without an interception in a Week 11 win over the Houston Texans. The undrafted rookie is the third different starting quarterback for the Raiders this season.
The Raiders will also likely stay with the hot hand in the backfield while Darren McFadden continues to rest his sore hamstring. That means another start for Rashad Jennings, who has topped 100 yards rushing in two of his last three games.
Oakland is still clinging to a thread of hope about making a run at the playoffs. For now, coach Dennis Allen’s team only needs to worry about Tennessee, which has won the last two meetings between these two foes.
Here are three things the Raiders must do to have a chance against the Titans:
Stay balanced offensively
The Raiders had their most effective day running the football against the Texans. They didn’t set a season high for yardage, but Rashad Jennings ran powerfully and repeatedly pushed the pile to gain extra yardage.
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It couldn’t have worked out any better for McGloin in his first NFL start. With the Texans having to focus more on the run, it opened the door for the passing game to take some shots downfield.
Jennings has been outstanding in the two-plus games since McFadden went out. His 80-yard touchdown run against the Texans was textbook. There were no flashy moves or anything like that. Jennings simply took the handoff from McGloin, buried a Houston safety about 10 yards downfield and barely broke stride before racing into the end zone.
Tennessee has a much better run defense than Houston does, but it’s still imperative the Raiders don’t abandon the run like they have at times this season.
Keep the play-calling simple
As sharp as McGloin looked, he was helped out tremendously by offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s play-calling. Rarely did the Raiders call for anything where McGloin was forced to drop deep and scan the field for very long.
McGloin’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly coupled with the play-calling helped negate some of the protection issues along the offensive line. That, as much as anything, is a reason why the former Penn State quarterback should start when Pryor is back to full strength.
With another week to work with and study McGloin, Olson should have a much better idea of how to fully utilize the young quarterback’s skills. While McGloin can throw an accurate deep ball, he’s much more efficient when getting the ball out quickly before the defense has a chance to react.
Give Adams some help over the top
With D.J. Hayden done for the year, the Raiders have turned to Phillip Adams to handle the nickelback role when Tracy Porter slides inside to face the slot receiver.
Adams played fairly well in a backup role in 2012 for Oakland. He played sparingly this season before getting thrown in the mix against Houston.
Adams has a bit of an edge on Hayden in terms of experience but lacks the skills that the Raiders’ former first-round draft pick has. That’s why Oakland has to do a better job of helping out Adams, either with an improved pass rush or by rolling a safety over the top to help Adams.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, the starter now that Jake Locker’s season is over, will likely try to seek out where Adams is and attempt to work the youngster over until he makes a mistake.
Almost every quarterback the Raiders have faced this season did it to Hayden and they surely won’t stop now that Adams is in the lineup.
The quarterback must go down … hard
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been sacked just nine times in four games. Oakland’s pass rush has rebounded strong since giving up an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 10.
Something’s going to have to give.
The beauty of the Raiders’ pass rush is that although they’ve haven’t registered a high volume of sacks, they’ve been able to sustain pressure which has rattled opposing quarterbacks. Defensive end Lamarr Houston has led the charge but the heavy blitz packages favored by defensive coordinator Jason Tarver have been even more influential.
For this to work, the defensive line and secondary have to be in unison. One can’t have a breakdown and expect the other to make up for it.
The Raiders need to send a message early to Fitzpatrick by coming at him with a few heavy blitzes. If they can get him on the run and out of his comfort zone in the middle of the pocket, it bodes well for the pass defense and Oakland’s team in general.
* Any information and quotes used in this and any story by Michael Wagam